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  • Coventry Pubs by Fred Luckett

    The Woolpack in Spon Street is an early photo from the 1860's, the pub has since been demolished. (Author's collection)

    Drinking in an old English town

    The history of the alcohol trade in Coventry

    Whilst beer, along with agriculture, was being created in the Middle East around 12,000 years ago, Coventry remained a patch of virgin forest in the Arden County until well into the Cristian era. Mercia was settled by Anglo-Saxons from the sixth century onwards, but Coventry itself is thought to have originated with the founding of an abbey under Saint Osburgh in the tenth century. This was destroyed by Cnut's forces in 1016, to be followed by the first definite event in Coventry, the founding of the priory of St Mary by Leofric and Godiva in 1043.

    In Anglo-Saxon society men had the roles that required upper body strength, such as field work and animal husbandry, and women were the head of the domestic household. Brewing was a household pursuit so women were the brewers. These brewers were termed 'alewives' and would have been members of families wealthy enough to have a surplus of grain and hence be able to brew ale over and above that needed for domestic requirements. Such supplies of ale would have been intermittent and hence a temporary ale stake was used to indicate that ale was for sale, rather than a permanent sign.

    The role of the alewife was gradually challenged by the monastic brewery and Coventry always had a plentiful supply of monasteries, with large permanent populations of monks and lay brothers needing a regular and dependable supply of ale.

     

    The Old Windmill in Spon Street, reputedly Coventry's oldest pub. (Author's collection)

    The first permanent retail outlet we learn of in Coventry was the White Cellar, a tavern, in c.1230. A tavern was a premises that sold wine, which would have been a specialist, high-value trade at that time. These early premises were followed by inns and other taverns as travel increased throughout the area.

    Once monastic brewing ceased in Coventry with the Reformation, commercial brewing expanded to supply the market and we begin to see brewing dynasties in Coventry such as the King, Ash and Rawson families, whilst the role of the alewife disappeared, although women were never excluded from brewing. In the eighteenth century we have Mrs. Cave King in Coventry, whilst in the West Midlands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have Julia Hanson, Sarah Hughes, Doris Pardoe, and on to modern-day female brewers. Permanent public houses were created to sell to the urban population no longer able to enjoy monastic, guild or even private hospitality.

     

    Jack Tatlow is drawing beer at the Rainbow in Allesley the 1930's. (Author's collection)

    At this time the regulation of the alcohol trade was in the hands of the corporation. Later the role was given to the magistrates, until very recently when it was given back to the city council. Licensing records begin in 1745, although at this time it is the person who is licensed, there is no mention of the premises. So, when a licensee moved house, his sign was likely to move with him. For example, the Crown in Bayley Lane closed in 1788 when the licensee, Charles Hunt, moved to White Friars Lane. The Crown in White Friars Lane opened immediately. From the mid-eighteenth century to the Second World War the number of public houses wavered between 200 and 250, which means that, with a growing population the ratio of pubs to people has constantly declined.

    During the early nineteenth century the spread of the tied house system, and the growth of large brewers, particularly in the home counties, caused concern over the reduction in competition. The growth in spirit drinking likewise was a problem. So, in 1830 the Beerhouse Act was passed allowing anyone to sell beer on the payment of a 2 guinea fee to the excise. A huge number of beerhouses sprang up, leading to an inevitable reaction. This, allied to the influence of the temperance movement and declining demand, lead to a reduction in the numbers of public houses, taverns, and inns in the city centre. This trend was accelerated by the widespread destruction of the city centre during the blitz, with many licenses moved out to the new suburbs.

    In more recent years many suburban pubs have closed, leading to licences being concentrated around entertainment or local centres.

    Fred Luckett's new book Coventry Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • Paranormal London by Gilly Pickup

    Are you interested in supernatural happenings? If you’re like me and enjoy delving into a good ghost story, then read on…

    The Viaduct Tavern, Newgate Street, ECI. Ghostly orbs in the lounger bar or simply a trick of the light? (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    My new book, Paranormal London, brims over with true tales of eerie encounters, some of which are terrifying enough to the capture the imagination of even the most hardened sceptic. After all there are more uncanny happenings in this city than you can shake a spook at, most of which are guaranteed to make you look at the London you are familiar with, either personally or through written accounts, in a totally different way.

    Let’s face it. Chances of bumping into an apparition in London are high. In fact, this, the world’s greatest city, (well, I think so), simply swirls with spirits. It has to be said that even though these phantoms lack a physical body they certainly don’t lack imagination. So while it’s to be expected that they strut their stuff in houses old and new, they also haunt hospitals, pubs, alleyways, Underground stations and even a bed. Spooky theatres? Yes, of course!  Ghostly hotels? Absolutely. A haunted bank? That too.

     

    Read my book – if you dare - to find out:

    Who was the headless phantom exorcised from the bank vaults?

    Why did a theatre prop cause bone chilling fear?

    Where have two people have been frightened to death – literally?

    Which Royal Park has a tree which harbours a fearsome spirit?

    Which museum’s poltergeist activity includes lots of floating orbs and disembodied voices which have been captured on tape?

    The Heath, where you may meet a phantom woman or a ghostly horseman. (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    Stories in Paranormal London take the reader on a spooktacular journey that covers Hampstead Heath, an ancient London park first documented in 986 when Ethelred the Unready granted one of his servants ‘five hides of land at Hemstede.’ When it comes to paranormal activity, this is a busy place. Compact, frenetic, once-sleazy Soho, oozing trendy bars, smart restaurants and encompassing dynamic, bustling, colourful Chinatown also has its otherworldly side – no wonder when you consider part of the area stands over a plague pit. Aristocratic, elegant Mayfair, named after the annual spring festival held until the 1730s, provides us with tales from one of London’s spectacularly eerie haunted pubs as well as the ongoing mystery of what is surely the capital’s most haunted house. St James, which starts at Piccadilly and includes Green Park, has a couple of seriously scary phantoms that you wouldn’t want to meet, while intellectual Bloomsbury, home of the British Library and Senate House offers a rather more unusual type of paranormal activity….

    The many theatres in Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross are simply awash with mysterious beings and strange goings-on. Marylebone, owned in the 12th century by a brotherhood of warrior monks called the Knights Templar, has its phantoms too including that of a famous actress, while once-bohemian Fitzrovia which lies to the north east of Oxford Circus is where to find a plethora of hospital ghosts. Familiar names all, that trip off the tongue whether you are a local, a visitor, or someone who knows London only from films and books.

    Now all you have to do is get a copy of Paranormal London, sit down, make yourself comfortable and savour these nerve-jangling tales. Make sure you have locked your windows and doors first though. It is as well to remember the London dead far outnumber the living.....

    P.S. Have you ever had an experience that wasn't - shall we say - quite of this world?  Do let me know, if so. www.gillypickup.co.uk

    Gilly Pickup's new book Paranormal London is available for purchase now.

  • Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 by Jason Dickinson

    Although Sheffield Wednesday have recently celebrated their 151st birthday, the story of their first 150 years remains a fascinating account of how this grand old club started life almost 200 years ago, when Wednesday Cricket Club was formed by the ‘little mesters’ of Sheffield, gentlemen who played a prominent role in the manufacturing boom in the town, which was driven mainly by the production of cutlery and steel. The cricket club quickly grew to become one of the best, and most well supported, clubs in the North of England as the town of Sheffield embraced the game, which eventually led to the formation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. It was the booming membership of the cricket club that led directly to the formation of a football team as members were keen to stay together in the winter months. Wednesday Football Club was duly formed on 4 September 1867 in the Adelphi Hotel, where the famous Crucible Theatre now stands, and joined the growing band of clubs as the new sport of football gained a foothold on the local sporting scene. The city of Sheffield still boasts the oldest club in world football (Sheffield FC) and the oldest ground (Sandygate, home of Hallam FC).

    Sheffield's Midland Station as the FA Cup is brought back in 1935. (Sheffield Wednesday FC, Amberley Publishing)

    From those early beginnings, Wednesday FC slowly rose to become the prominent club in Sheffield. By the late 1870s it became known nationally after several headline making runs in the FA Cup, reaching the final as a non-league side in 1890. Although they failed to gain election into the newly created Football League in 1888, they were voted in four years later, along with newly formed neighbours Sheffield United. Honours duly followed in league and cup and although Wednesday have now been outside of the Premier League for almost twenty years they remain one of the best supported club’s in the land. A loyal following that followed them during the dark days of the 1970s and early 2010s when the very future of the club was on the line. That passion for the Owls (a nicknamed coined when the club received a gift of a wooden Owl, which was placed under the eves of a stand, and saw the start of a winning run) has been passed down through the generations. From their early years playing on roped off pitches to a move to Olive Grove and then to Owlerton, and remains as fierce now as it did back in those Victorian years when the likes of Heeley and Lockwood Brothers were the club’s main rivals.

    The Official 150th Year History of Sheffield Wednesday was written in a format that is an homage to the seminal work of Richard Sparling, who published ‘The Romance of the Wednesday’ back in 1926 – one of only a handful of football history books published in the pre-war era. Like that tremendous book, the club’s fortunes have been detailed in specific ‘standalone’ chapters. From the early years of the cricket club to over 4,600 games played in the league and from the best players to the managers who’ve led Wednesday through all their up and downs. All the major events of those 150 years are covered in detail with chapters also detailing Wednesday’s exploits in European football and the League Cup, in addition to a detailed look at their much beloved home of almost 120 years, Hillsborough. A chapter detailing derby day meetings with city rivals the Blades are also within the pages, along with stories of Wednesday’s numerous trips to foreign lands and even a chapter full of curious and funny stories that have only added to the rich tapestry of their long history. The book tells the full story of a one of England’s most well-known football teams, with a name that is totally unique in world football.

    Jason Dickinson's new paperback edition of his book Sheffield Wednesday FC: The Official History 1867-2017 is available for purchase now.

  • Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time by Mark Turner

    When arriving at the North Cotswolds town of Moreton-in-Marsh as a fresh-faced young policeman in 1981 thoughts of producing a pictorial history of the place were probably far from my mind. Earlier, however, as a youngster raised in the Welsh border town of Monmouth, I had long been fascinated by local history, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I soon found myself thinking as much about Moreton’s historical development as its potential as a place of criminal activity. Fortunately, Moreton-in-Marsh is a low-crime area and I was able to balance the requirements of my job with my enthusiasm for local history!

    Drury's Butcher's Shop, High Street. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    I quickly discovered that relatively little had been written about the place. A few pamphlets and essays had been compiled, certainly, but these were all well out of date, long since out of print, and difficult to obtain. Luckily, an enthusiastic local butcher had collected a few hundred old postcards of Moreton, although these were at that time being stored in the cellar of a farmhouse on the edge of town. I accessed these pictures, copied and indexed them and used them as the basis of a slide show that I then began presenting to local groups and societies. Additionally, when ‘on the beat’ in the town, I often found myself chatting with senior citizens and elderly residents – the conversations invariably turning to memories and photographs of days past. Many of these people kindly loaned or gave me old photographs of Moreton and over some years I amassed an unsurpassed local collection of historic images. To date, this collection amounts to some 1,200 old photographs. The butcher (long-deceased) would no doubt be proud!

    US Tanks, High Street Service Road. (Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Inevitably, many of the photographs are of cricket and football teams, school pupils and local committees or social gatherings. Valuable though these pictures are, they do not really illustrate the town’s physical appearance. Luckily, there are numerous photographs, too, of Moreton’s streets and buildings and in many cases long-forgotten shops and business premises are shown in their heyday. I have also acquired rare and nostalgic photographs of the local railway station in the steam locomotive era, as well as nineteenth-century images of long-vanished industrial premises, such as Moreton’s rope works and former iron foundry. Particularly unusual are photographs – surreptitiously snapped by a local schoolgirl – of American tanks gathered in the High Street awaiting embarkation to France for D-Day.

    As well as giving occasional presentations of my historic pictures, I have, over the years, gone on to produce a number of books about Gloucestershire, and the Cotswolds in particular. Moreton-in-Marsh is a small town, however, and it seemed likely that my photographic collection would merely remain the basis for talks to local societies. And then I became aware of Amberley’s ‘Through Time’ series of publications and the potential at last for some of my photographs to reach a wider audience. I put forward a proposal, which was positively received, and Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is the end result. The book, which is a beautifully-presented collection of evocative images, has been greeted with enthusiasm and is already selling well. It is likely to be of interest to local residents and visitors alike and, when walking around the town, people will find it a particularly handy guide to Moreton’s ever-changing streets and buildings. Why not get a copy and come and visit this lovely town for yourself?

    Mark Turner's new book Moreton-in-Marsh Through Time is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Dumfries by Mary Smith

    When burials in churches were banned in Scotland.

    Plaque on the site of the monastery. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    One of my favourite parts of Secret Dumfries was a quote from Alf Truckell’s preface to the 1928 edition of McDowall’s History of Dumfries. He gave a colourful and somewhat startling account of events in the year 1607, taken from the town’s Privy Council records: ‘A man tries to strangle a boy with a garter and throws him in the Mill Dam in March: the King’s messenger comes through the town in May, to find the inhabitants dressed in green and armed for the May Play: a couple of Baillie’s sons take up the cry “a Lorebourne”, their fathers repeat it: shots are fired and horses wounded: the Messenger and his men flee: church burials have been outlawed some years before, a family break open the church door with tree-trunks and bury a dead relative within, whereupon another family hurry home, grab a corpse, and bury it, and a third family dig up an uncle and are about to bury him when the Law finally turns up…’

    I was especially intrigued by the references to church burials and how determined people were to defy the law and bury their relatives within the church itself. I had no time to do further research into when and why burials inside churches became illegal.

    I read the extract at the launch of Secret Dumfries and was delighted when someone emailed me a part of an article from a magazine which said The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland outlawed church burials, which it deemed idolatrous, in 1576. Anyone breaking the new rule could be suspended from the church until they repented publicly (did they have to remove the body?) and minsters who allowed the practice would also be suspended.

    St Mary's Church. (Secret Dumfries, Amberley Publishing)

    There were other good reasons for discontinuing the burial of bodies within the church. Before the Reformation wealthy and influential people such as the lairds (landed estate owners) were buried inside the church – sometimes beneath the family pew. This reduced the space available for the congregation. Also, bodies were not always interred very deeply and the smell of decomposition would have been unpleasant to say the least. Parishioners sometimes brought their dogs to church and dogs like nothing better than to dig up bones.

    I almost included a paragraph in Secret Dumfries saying this practice of sometimes shallow interment inside churches gave rise to the expression ‘stinking rich’. I’m so glad my word count was at its limit and I didn’t because, according to the website https://www.phrases.org.uk, apparently the expression only came into use in the twentieth century.

    The 1576 act was repeated in 1588, 1631 and in 1643, which is probably a good indication of people’s resistance to it. One rather extreme, and unpleasant, example occurred in 1607 in Durisdeer, near Dumfries. Adam Menzies, laird of Enoch had buried his young son in his family’s aisle of the kirk. Sir James Douglas, a staunch Presbyterian, of Drumlanrig had servants dig up the child’s body and rebury it in a shallow grave away from the church. Adam Menzies and his wife, who had just had another child, were understandably very upset. Despite being attacked by the minister, he reburied his son’s body in the kirk and appealed to the Privy Council. Although he was breaking the law regarding burials inside a church, the Privy Council took his side, allowing his child to remain in the family’s burial aisle.

    As for the family who used tree trunks to break down the door in the Dumfries church and set off a chain reaction as quoted at the start of this article, I was very pleased to learn his identity. According to Maureen M. Meikle in her book, The Scottish People 1490-1625, it was a John Irving who wanted to bury his mother.

    Mary Smith and Keith Kirk's new book Secret Dumfries is available for purchase now.

  • Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 by Patrick G. Eriksson

    The German surprise attack on the Soviet Union began before dawn on 22 July 1941. Oberleutnant Gűnther Scholz, Staffelkapitän 7/JG 54 recalled this historical day: ‘On 22 June 1941 in the early morning at 03h00 the first intrusion over the Soviet border took place; our target was the airbases near Kowno. I will never forget flying over the border. As far as one could see from our height of approximately 2,000 m in the emerging dawn, to the north and to the south, white and red Very lights were ascending high into the sky and army units on the ground and fliers in the air crossed the border punctually at 03h00.’ Tactical surprise was achieved in massed attacks on Soviet air bases, the exultant pilots claiming 1,489 aircraft destroyed on the ground, 322 in the air as the Russians responded. As always in aerial combat, actual losses (864 ground, 336 air) didn’t match claims made.

    It was a young man’s war. Leutnant Erich Sommavilla, Stab I/JG 53, returns from a mission over Hungary, early 1945. (Erich Sommavilla, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    These were catastrophic losses, and the Russians would continue to suffer grievous losses for a long time, but they never stopped fighting. Often their stubborn resistance, their continued advance towards targets as their bomber formations were shot to ribbons, were seen as stur (pig-headed) and stupid, characteristics typical of Untermenschen as many of the Germans saw them. Many German Jagdflieger were highly experienced, with campaigns from Poland to the Balkans behind them, as well as the sobering defeat of the Battle of Britain. Fighter pilots are aggressive and often ambitious, and the lure of success, high decorations and joining the panoply of propaganda heroes of the Third Reich kept many of them focussed. Their victory claims soon mushroomed and as the Russian campaign went on, the envelope of the top scorers exceeded first 100, then successively 150, 200, 250 and even 300, Hartmann their top ace achieving an incredible 352 claimed successes. The German fighter pilots in the East were thus the top scorers not only of the war, but of all time. This image of Luftwaffe Experten has remained largely entrenched, and their claiming system, with rigid administrative steps leading up to confirmation is seen as being reliable. Somehow, the German aces appear as having been better than anyone else a viewpoint still enjoying credence even today; however, it needs to be seen as the propaganda of a race-obsessed Nazi regime, of great benefit when your air forces are suffering strategic defeat, over an ever-retreating Eastern Front.

    In order to get closer to the truth, this book relies on a core of testimony from 70-odd Luftwaffe fighter pilot veterans who flew Me 109s or Fw 190s, and crewmen of the Me 110 two seater Zerstörer. Recollections of their training period show that it was thorough, unusually included exposure to a wide range of different aircraft types, and was surprisingly accommodating of pilots needing more time for any part of their training. The veterans gave freely of their time, and supplied copies of original documents: flying logbooks, diaries, combat reports, and claims paperwork. Fellow aviation historians were also most generous, one providing the Startkladde 7/JG 51 for September 1943 – April 1944, giving a record of each flight made by all pilots, operational mission or not.

    Tired pilots of III/JG 52 back from a mission, field base Gonstakowka, Terek bridgehead, Caucasus, October 1942. Oberleutnant Rall (Staffelkapitän 8/JG 52; third ranking Luftwaffe ace) second from left, witness Gerd Schindler at right. (Gerd Schindler, Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945, Amberley Publishing)

    This enabled some statistical evaluation of the combat record of a single Staffel over several months. One of the pilots figuring prominently in this record was Hauptmann Gűnther Schack, whose diary excerpts provide fascinating reading of the daily life of a top ace (174 victory claims); he was a very modest man who decried all hero worship of Luftwaffe aces. However, his success and high decorations saved his father (a senior cleric opposed to Nazism and resisted joining the Nazi-sponsored Protestant church) from imprisonment or worse. Oberst Hanns Trűbenbach, commanding JG 52, describes his shock upon landing at a frontline airfield, where an NCO proudly showed him a fresh, only partly covered mass grave of Jewish men, woman and children. Later on he tells of intercepting a brand new Russian fighter over the Black Sea, whose test pilot was concentrating on writing up his technical notes, and did not see Trűbenbach until he got really close; however, he had nothing to fear, the German pilot had no intention of shooting such an innocent down. Peter Dűttmann, posted into II/JG 52 in the Kuban in May 1943 gives a detailed account of his first few days at the front, during which several of his Staffel comrades were lost, including his C/O; what an introduction for a greenhorn. Hans Grűnberg, one of the few surviving members of Platzschutzstaffel Pitomnik, the few fighter pilots of JG 3 flying from within the Stalingrad pocket, recalls sitting in his Me 109 and seeing Russian troops overrun his field base as ground crew struggled to warm up the engine enough for take-off; alas he had to flee on foot in the chaos, eventually getting out the pocket on one of the last Ju 52 transporters to leave Gumrak, a small field several miles away. Other Stalingrad veterans remember not being able to fly tight manoeuvres in combat due to a starvation diet. Diary extracts of Hans Strelow, a very young Leutnant in JG 51 were rescued from amongst his effects after his death by Luftwaffe psychologist, Professor Paul Skawran; forced to crash-land after his final combat, Strelow shot himself in the head rather than become a prisoner.

    The thorny issue of the Luftwaffe’s multi-step victory claims procedure, often seen as exemplary due to its extensive paperwork, is in fact rather more complex, having also been subject to human influence as in a simpler system. It changed during the war, for most in approximately August 1942, when claims which equate essentially to probables became the norm. A group of Geschwader Kommodoren give detailed testimony about the system. One emphasised the critical distinction between the terms Luftsieg (cf. complete, witnessed destruction) and Abschuss (enemy aircraft leaves formation, descends obviously damaged). In autumn 1942, the Abschuss concept became basically standard; high claims in the east were acknowledged within a changing and even manipulated system. High eastern scores, can be related to careful use of the Luftwaffe’s favourite bounce tactic, skewed towards enemy fighters; tactical expedience and scoring thus largely replaced strategic application of limited and shrinking aerial assets.

    Patrick G. Eriksson's new book Alarmstart East: The German Fighter Pilot's Experience on the Eastern Front 1941-1945 is available for purchase now.

  • Jarrow at Work by Paul Perry

    People and Industries Through the Years

    Jarrow A.F.C. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    There was a time when there was not a town called Jarrow, fields streams and riverbanks were all that existed. Eventually settlements were raised in the area around the banks of the River Don. Without doubt, the most memorable of the early settlements was an order of Benedictine Monks at the monastery at Donmouth as Jarrow was referred to in the 6th century. This was home to the town’s most celebrated resident the Venerable Bede: monk. Scholar, historian and very probably one of the most remarkable men this country has ever produced, who was responsible for writing the oft referred to Northumbrian Chronicles, one of the few learned works to survive from those dark days in the mists of time. Jarrow at this time was a centre of learning, a beacon of light in an otherwise dark age.

    Railway Station Grant Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    If all that Jarrow had to offer history was a monk and a book it would still be worthy of note and recognition, but the town had so much more to give. The proximity of mineral resources and water borne transportation gave rise to the period of industrialisation which dominated the life and prosperity of the town from the eighteenth century to recent times. The shipyards, steelworks, coal mines, chemical plants and its connection with the fuel industry, have all in turn contributed towards the growth, wealth and success of the town.

    Amos Butcher Shop, Albert Road. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    When talking of Jarrow, it is not always possible to talk of light and life. No work which ever purports in any way to tell the story of the town can ignore and portray the hardship and privation suffered by its people during the interwar years of the great depression. Subject to a greater rate of unemployment than any other borough in the land, Jarrow came to epitomise the desperate state of affairs endured by so much of industrial Britain during that period.

    Ferry Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Nothing, depression and wars included, lasts forever, and the post war years saw a welcome and marked improvement in the well-being of the town and its people. This improvement took many forms: new schools, public houses, recreational facilities, a state of the art shopping complex, but most importantly the rehousing of thousands of residents to Jarrow’s own garden suburb, Primrose.

    For many years, the Borough of Jarrow had been subject to a programme of ongoing changes and refurbishment, with the construction of a network of ring roads skirting the town, removed the burden of pollution from industrial and constant heavy traffic from the town centre. Together with the introduction of the ‘Clean Air Act’ of 1955, the town was once again looking forward to a brighter future. The working base of the town has undergone equally radical alteration. None of the former lucrative heavy industries of old exist. Today many would consider Jarrow as a dormitory town. In strict legal terms, the Borough of Jarrow no longer exists, amalgamated in 1974 with the much larger borough of South Tyneside. Instead, many would consider Jarrow a dormitory town, home to the office and retail personnel of the commercial enterprises of the surrounding area.

    Station Hotel Ellison Street. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    As the 21st century dawned, there was little or no evidence of any industrial activity in Jarrow, as very few relics of the town survive any more. The shipyards and rolling mills have been replaced with industrial business parks. Although these parks provide employment in the town and contribute heavily towards its ongoing economy, they seem somewhat soulless. No longer do we build ships or even repair them, long gone are the slipways and dry docks which were once the throbbing heart of the town.

    Monkton terrace. (Jarrow at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    We must be eternally grateful to the amateur historians of the last two centuries who trawled the streets and shipyards with their cameras taking photographs for future generations to enjoy. Through their eyes, they left us a legacy of images of times past that we must treasure and preserve. Without these images, the history and heritage of the town would be almost impossible to piece together. The history of Jarrow is a vital link with the past, not only for ourselves, but more importantly for future generations. Through the days of triumph and tragedy, the outstanding feature of Jarrow has been its people. Famous writers, singers, local characters and villains have grown up in the town, but it is the ordinary Jarovian possessing a rare mixture of honesty, decency and good humour that has given the town its unique personality. In return all are marked forever by the town and have a genuine affection for it and proud to be called Jarra’ lads and lasses.

    Paul Perry's new book Jarrow at Work is available for purchase now.

  • Westbury Cement Works by Simon Knight

    The chimney standing tall over the partly demolished site. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    When I started covering the demolition of the cement works, I hadn’t originally planned on turning my time spent there into a book. But as the hours spent on site accumulated, I began to realise that there was more to the place than just old, dusty buildings. It was a place that was once alive. It was a place that was important. And it was a place that should be remembered.

    Once I knew that there was to be a book on the horizon, it changed my approach to my visits to the noisy site; where machines slowly tracked around digging, hammering and cutting up the remnants of a once thriving industry. I now had to make sure that I took plenty of still images from both the drone and ground-based camera, rather than just shooting video; I had to record as much as possible. And with thoughts of the book constantly with me during those visits, I would begin to explore the cement works with renewed intrigue.

     

     

    Kiln construction in 1962. (Credit Tarmac Ltd., Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I was given permission to use archive black and white pictures that were taken during the construction of the site. I love taking pictures and I love looking at pictures and I found it truly fascinating trawling through them all. There were pictures taken during the construction of the two huge rotary kilns, the chimneys, the quarry, the entire construction had been documented. Looking back in time at a place that I had become so familiar with only added to my fascination of the works.

    I now also had the perfect excuse to spend more time with something that I am truly passionate about – wildlife. I would spend hours walking over the long since used clay pile in search of butterflies, reptiles and wild flowers. The wildlife that lived at the back of the site lay in juxtaposition with the silence shattering and ground shaking machinery that that operated on a daily basis for eighteen months. Despite the disturbance, life went on for the mammalian, avian and reptilian life that inhabited the cement works. The highlight of my time spent with the wildlife was watching a family of Peregrine falcons. I was in the privileged position to be able to watch the parent birds rear their three chicks whilst I was concealed away in a building that once delivered cement clinker via a conveyor belt. It was dusty (as was the entire place) and uncomfortable, but it was worth every minute.

    Female Peregrine. (Credit: Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    I also learned of a far more ancient form of wildlife that once existed at the works. During the excavation of the clay that was used in the cement making process, many prehistoric fossils were unearthed. The fossil rich Kimmeridge clay, present as a sedimentary layer under the works, was a graveyard to many prehistoric marine reptiles from the Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. The most famous of these reptiles was ‘Doris’, an eight metre long pliosaur. Her story would eventually see her end up with a new resting place, at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. When I was in the museum photographing Doris, I couldn’t believe that the first visit to the works had led me to this very moment, where I was stood facing the fossilised remains of one of the most ferocious marine predators that ever lived!

     

     

    The life-sized model of Doris displayed in the Bristol Museum. (Credit Simon Knight/Bristol Culture, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    Some of the time spent on site was frustrating and not so enjoyable. There were days when the weather wasn’t cooperative. Wind and rain would ground the drones and made stills photography challenging, sometimes impossible. Probably the most frustrating issue to deal with was when parts of the demolition didn’t go as planned. Occasionally there would be a building or structure that wasn’t prepared to give up its fifty-year grip on the land. This would lead to me being on site for most of the day, when the plan had been for that particular part of the works to be on the ground before the morning was out. During this time all I could do was hang around and wait.

    Of course, from a demolition perspective, the highlight of the entire eighteen months was the works iconic 400ft tall chimney coming down. The landmark that was visible and known for miles around, came crashing to the ground at 7am on 18th September 2016. It was an exciting and nervous morning for my crew of four that had set up cameras and piloted drones to record the memorable event. It was a morning that none of us will forget.

    The fallen chimney. (Credit Simon Knight, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    This was my first book, and it did feel somewhat strange when I received my copies of it. Here I was, holding a book that had been professionally published – with my name on the front! It was something that I had dreamt about for a long time. I mean, doesn’t everybody want to write a book? But now it had actually happened, it didn’t feel real somehow. I was proud of it, I knew that much, but there was also some trepidation lurking within – how would it be received?

    Something else that was very strange to me was having to do the local press pieces. I never produced the book to get attention. I’m a somewhat shy and quiet person and I am not a huge fan of being on the lens side of the camera, so being interviewed by the local press was a very alien experience to me to say the least!

     

     

    Simon Knight posing for the Wiltshire Times with some of the former cement works employees. (Credit: Siobhan Boyle/Wiltshire Times, Westbury Cement Works, Amberley Publishing)

    What was very enjoyable though was the small get together that I organised with Nigel Osman (the cement works site manager) for some of the works former employees to celebrate the launch of the book. It was lovely to meet them, and they had some fond memories of life at the cement works. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years and a good time was had by all. These were the people that I had really produced the book for.

    One employee said something to me that meant more than anything anyone could have said. It struck a chord with me and proved that to some people at least, the book meant something. He said, ‘It’s good that you have taken the time to do the book. This place employed generations of family members, was a good employer and it’s important that it’s remembered’.

    This really did mean a lot to me. This was the reason I produced the book and I now knew that it had been worth the effort.

     

    Simon Knight's new book Westbury Cement Works is available for purchase now.

  • British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s by Stephen Dowle

    Few dissent from the view that Harrington Grenadier was one of the best coach bodies of its era. This example, on an AEC Reliance 2U3RA chassis, was one of a batch of five new to Bowen's of Birmingham in 1965. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    "Transitional" is, I suppose, the word to describe the bus industry’s situation in the second half of the 1970s. The transition was from two-man "crew" operation – universal on all but the most unfrequented services ten years earlier – to "OMO", or One-Man Operation, to employ the diabolical gender-specific term used in those far-off, unenlightened times. For us in the industry it was a "soft" revolution: I never heard of anyone being compulsorily made redundant as a consequence of OMO. I was one of many conductors who were re-trained as drivers, and the usual high turnover of staff made it possible to manage the changeover on the basis of natural wastage, retirements and so on. Once the dust had settled the man behind the wheel found himself doing what had, until recently, been two jobs. Much of the camaraderie disappeared and bus driving became a solitary, slightly sadder occupation. Of course, operators were in the business of running bus services, not social clubs.

    OMO was a response to decline. The industry's prosperity had peaked in the decade after the war. It was said that operators typically employed 2.4 people for every bus owned and all bus undertakings eagerly embraced OMO as a means of reducing their wages bill. Many ill-informed theories were advanced to explain the decline. Passengers were especially vocal on the topic and blamed the ever-falling fortunes of their local bus operator on the disincentive effect of higher fares and deteriorating standards of service. This was to put the cart before the horse. It was the age of "affluence", full employment and inflation. At a time when local newspapers were plump and heavy with the weight of Situations Vacant advertising, it is said that you could walk out of a job in the morning and start another in the afternoon, people rejected the shifts, split turns, early starts and low pay of bus work. Many buses were pulled from services because it was impossible to provide crews for them. Attempts to make the job more attractive mostly took the form of pay rises, which had to then be paid for in higher fares. To keep fare increases below the level at which passengers were deterred from travelling was a delicate balancing act. To me it was plain that the industry's reduced circumstances could be attributed mainly to the great increase in car ownership. Once they could afford to, people naturally preferred to travel in their own cars, door-to-door, at times of their own choosing. This led not only to a fall in the number of passengers, but to an increased problem of traffic congestion. Another factor was that people now stayed indoors watching television where once they would have gone out in search of recreation. The decline of public transport was a natural consequence of increased prosperity.

    The moulded 'St Helens front' was supplied with many Leyland Titan chassis when traditional exposed radiators passed out of favour. Colchester's 43 (OVX 143D) had beennew in 1966 and carried bodywork by Massey. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    The industry's adaptation to its reduced circumstances took place against a background of stability. The Transport Act of 1968 and the 1974 reforms of local government had brought in changes of organisation, but these were now well established; the greater upheaval of privatisation and deregulation would not come until the mid-1980s. For the period covered by the book it was "steady as she goes". As far as the vehicles were concerned, the introduction of OMO had presented ticklish problems of re-design. If the driver was to take his passengers' fares, the engine would have to be removed from its natural place at the front to a more hostile environment further back. In the case of double-deckers this meant the vertical rear transverse position, never very satisfactory from an engineering point of view, and in single-deckers a mid or rear horizontal underfloor configuration. This made room for a spacious platform and cab ahead of the front axle. The noble front-engined half-cab bus, a familiar and uniquely British vehicle, was doomed, and its slab-fronted, box-on-wheels, one-man successor was taking over. The normal pace of fleet renewal meant that the last front-engined buses, built towards the end of the 1960s, would reach the end of their lives in the early 1980s. So it proved. The photographs in the book were taken between 1975 and 1980, by which time OMO was almost universal. The few remaining pockets of "crew" operation disappeared during the first years of the new decade.

    This unusual Leyland Titan PD3/2 with Alexander body was fitted from new with an experimental fibreglass front made by Holmes (Homalloy) of Preston. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    I have spoken of "the bus industry". The coach sector, being for the most part in private hands, was proof against government interference and went its own way. Most large operators, however, had a "coaching side" that formed a minor part of their activities; most subsidiaries of the National Bus Company (NBC) contributed white-liveried vehicles to the National Express coach pool. The NBC, my employers, had incurred my displeasure by imposing a particularly insipid "corporate identity", which had led to the disappearance, one might almost say suppression, of previous company identities, liveries and lettering styles. Much the same had happened in the large cities, where the previous corporation undertakings had been absorbed into Passenger Transport Executives, each hell-bent on promoting an up-to-the-minute, go-ahead "image". In the book's introduction I give an account of how pleased I was, on first travelling to Scotland in 1976, to find the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh thronged with the vehicles of the Scottish Bus Group, still wearing the exquisite liveries and fleetnames of its separate companies. Remote from modish influences, old ways endured in Scotland, for the time being.

    Hurrying around the country by train with my camera to chronicle these developments became a favourite recreation. The matter became increasingly urgent as aged survivors of the pre-OMO epoch, each in its due time, joined the inevitable procession that led to the breaker's yard. Although I was not keen on the direction events were taking, for students of the industry they were undoubtedly interesting times. There was still much variety and what was old was markedly different from what was new: today, I would suggest, the oldest vehicles in service are not fundamentally unlike their newer replacements. Another important difference between then and now is that foreign builders had yet to get their feet under the table of the British market. Fleets were still dominated by the big names among domestic builders, notably Leyland, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Bedford. Looking back, through the wrong end of a telescope and wearing, as usual, my rose-tinted spectacles, the era seems a miniature golden age. It is a characteristic of golden ages that they never last.

    Stephen Dowle's new book British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s is available for purchase now.

  • Masters of the Italian Line by Ian Sebire

    A magazine advert for the new ship, dominated by her namesake's self-portrait in old age. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello

    As a child I was fascinated by ships and the sea, in truth of course I still am. Perhaps it is in the blood (Sebire may be of Norse origin, meaning ‘Sea Bright’), or the result of long summer holidays spent on Guernsey and Herm in the Channel Islands. Whatever the reason, passenger liners have always held a particular interest. If the mighty France/Norway remains my all-time favourite, the Italian Liners of the 1960’s, with their svelte profiles and often exotic names, collectively captivated me most.

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello were the most prominent of these vessels and amongst the most significant passenger ships (the twins were the fourth longest and largest post-war built liners, exceeding P&O’s Canberra) of their era. Perversely I was aware of the ships long before I knew about the artists for which they are named, yet prior to the advent of the internet there was little information about them, especially in English. Peter C. Kohler changed all that in the late 1990’s with his superb history of the Italian Line entitled ‘The Lido Fleet’; my threadbare copy bears witness to the numerous times I have read it, or ‘dipped in’ and inevitably it was a key reference source for me.

    Nevertheless, to my knowledge there has never been an English language book prior to ‘Masters of the Italian Line’ that focussed exclusively on these three magnificent vessels. My hope is that this book helps to fill that void.

     

     

    Early artist impression of the new ships with their projected vital statistics. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci remains, in my view, the most beautiful ship of all time; tangible evidence of the Italian genius for synthesising form and function. Unique, she also seems to have been a happy ship, imbued perhaps with the benevolent spirits of those seeking to avenge the loss of her predecessor, Andrea Doria. That she was unable to make the transition from ocean liner to cruise ship was particularly disappointing, her elegant silhouette would have graced the piers of every port she visited. Political sensibilities aside, making the switch would still have been difficult without reconfiguring the engine rooms and installing diesels to replace the thirsty turbines.  Of course the fire at La Spezia in July 1980 destroyed all those dreams.

    Inevitably Michelangelo will always be synonymous with her wave encounter on 12th April 1966. That single dreadful event overshadows a decade long career, during which the first of the ‘make work’ sister ships transported tens of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic and on languid pleasure cruises. She always took centre stage and inevitably her final departures from both New York and Genoa drew the largest audiences and media attention.

    Michelangelo reflected in the clear, still waters of Geirangerfjord in the course of her North Cape cruise. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    In contrast Raffaello has always seemed more distant and enigmatic. Perhaps it’s an Englishman’s penchant for the underdog, or more rationally my preference for her modern, bright, European decor but Raffaello has always been my favourite of the two. Pathos pervades both the superliners’ careers but the manner of her demise, sunk as an innocent ‘civilian’ victim by the Iraqi Air Force, gives her story a particularly sad final twist.

    At times exhausting and frustrating, writing this book, including collating the information and photographs has nevertheless been a wonderfully rewarding experience. As a novice I am indebted to many people from several different countries who generously helped, those directly involved are included in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. There is however one person not mentioned who has been instrumental throughout. Thanks to a fortuitous delay in the departure of Fred Olsen’s ‘Black Watch’ several years ago, I met Nigel Lawrence, editor of Shipping Today and Yesterday magazine, at the end of Dover’s Prince of Wales pier. We got chatting and Nigel subsequently published my article about the Italian line in the magazine and has printed several of my ship biographies since, giving me the confidence to pursue this project and see it to fruition. I am really grateful.

    Ian Sebire's new book Masters of the Italian Line is available for purchase now.

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